The 29th of June this year is a Silver Jubilee for me: the 25th Anniversary of my ordination as Deacon. So next year will be the jubilee of my priesting. The 29th is of course also St. Peter’s day, when we remember the disciple who, for all his many mistakes, knew how to recover and hold on, who, for all his waverings was called by Jesus ‘the rock’, who learned the threefold lesson that every betrayal can ultimately be restored by love. It is fitting therefore that it is at Petertide that new priests and deacons are ordained, on the day they remember a man whose recovery from mistakes and openness to love can give them courage. So I post this poem not only for St. Peter but for all those being ordained this weekend and in memory of my own ordination on this day 25 years ago.
This poem comes from my collection Sounding the Seasons published by Canterbury Press. You can also buy it on Amazon Uk or US or order it in any bookshop. My Canadian readers can get it from Steve Bell.
As always you can her the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button, or on the title of the poem.
So keep his fires burning through the night Beacons and gateways for the child of light.
In our poetic journey through the sacred seasons of the year we have come to midsummer! The traditional Church festival for this beautiful, long-lit solstice season is the Feast of St. John the Baptist, which falls on June 24th, which was midsummer day in the old Roman Calender. Luke tells us that John the Baptist was born about 6 months before Jesus, so this feast falls half way through the year, 6 months before Christmas!
The tradition of keeping St. John’s Eve with the lighting of Bonfires and Beacons is very ancient, almost certainly pre-Christian, but in my view it is very fitting that it has become part of a Christian festivity. Christ keeps and fulfills all that was best in the old pagan forshadowings of his coming and this Midsummer festival of light is no exception. John was sent as a witness to the light that was coming into the world, and John wanted to point to that light, not stand in its way, hence his beautiful saying ‘He must increase and I must diminish’, a good watchword for all of those who are, as the prayer book calls us, the ‘ministers and stewards of his mysteries’.
I have written two sonnets, one for St. John’s Eve reflecting on the lighting of the fires and another for St. John’s day in which , in honour of the Baptist, I reflect on the mystery and grace of baptism itself.
I am very grateful to the artist Rebecca Merry for her beautiful interpretation of this feast and these poems.
Both these sonnets were published in Sounding the Seasons, my cycle of seventy sonnets for the Church Year.The book is now back in stock on bothAmazon UK and USA and physical copies are available in Canada via Steve Bell. It is now also out on Kindle. Please feel free to make use of this, and my other sonnets in church services and to copy and share them. If you can mention the book from which they are taken that would be great.
As usual you can hear the poems by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title.
This Sunday at 6:30pm Ely Cathedral will be holding a special service of thanksgiving for carers, to remember and give thanks for the largely hidden ministry of people who look after their friends or family with chronic needs; those who’s husbands, wives or parents suffer from dementia, those whose children have special needs, the many people whose lives are completely shaped and governed by the needs of another. Those who were planning this service wrote and asked me if I would write a poem for the occasion. I was honoured to do so and I will be reading the poem in Ely tomorrow. Meanwhile I am posting it here, in the hope it may reach and encourage some of the people whose loving sacrifice it celebrates.
As usual you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.
Here is another new sonnet from my work in progress ‘Parable and Paradox’, a sonnet sequence on the sayings of Jesus, to be published next year by Canterbury Press. In this sonnet I am reflecting on The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5 verses 1-16, and on the beautiful series of beatitudes, or blessings with which it begins, as well as on the image of a hidden light, taken out and set at last on a hill which follows these beautiful blessings. It seems to me that one way to understand how it is that the poor, and those who mourn, the persecuted, and those who keep yearning and hungering, in spite of everything, for a righteousness we do not yet see, are all nevertheless, even now, somehow blessed, is to see in the beatitudes a little lifting of the veil, a little glimpse into the coming kingdom. We can so easily feel defeated by the darkness of this present age and the apparent defeat of goodness at every turn, but in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus lifts the veil and gives us hope! The Cross, his cross and ours, is not the end of the story! The kingdom is coming and one day His Easter, his glorious resurrection will also be ours! The beatitudes are an invitation to live from and for that coming day, even now, to take the hidden light of his love and goodness and let it shine through us into the pre-dawn darkness of our world.
As well as writing the sonnet I have also focused some of these reflections into the final sermon of a six sermon sequence, also called ‘Parable and Paradox, which I preached this term at Girton. The whole sequence is online now and can be found here.
As always you can hear me read the sonnet by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button
June the 9th is Saint Columba’s day, a saint who has a special place for me, as somehow, he feels bound up in my own journey to Faith. When I was 19, and moving from a formerly thorough atheism, towards a greater spiritual openness, but by no means yet a Christian, I went for a long slow walk round Ireland. I went without a map because the Zen practice in which I was interested at the time, and on which I still draw in prayer, was always emphasizing ‘The map is not the reality”! You must utterly and absolutely be in the place you’re in, and let that place be what it is and teach what it has to teach without any overlay from your maps and preconceptions. So I took that literally and walked round Ireland without a map, just keeping the sea on my left! One evening, St. John’s Eve it was, right at the end of my journey, I came round a headland at sunset into a beautiful little bay and inlet on the west coast in Donegal, just as the fires were being lit around the headlands for St. Johns Eve, and there was drinking and fiddle playing and dancing round the fires that evening. And I asked where I was, and they said Glencolmcille, and I felt a sudden quickening and sense of connection, as though a memory stirred. And they asked me my name and I said ‘Malcolm’, and they said, ‘Ah that is why you have come, because he has called you’, and I said ‘who?’ and they said ‘Colm has called you, Malcolm, for this is the place he fought his battle and gathered his disciples and from here he left for the white martyrdom and Scotland. And they told me the story of St. Columba, and the battle he had fought, of his repentance, his self-imposed exile, his journey with twelve disciples from this glen to Scotland where he founded the abbey of Iona from whence Scotland and much of the north of England was converted. ‘Of course he is calling you here’, they said, ‘for your name, in Gaelic means servant of Columba. And as they spoke I remembered at last, right back into my childhood, how I had been told stories about this saint, and how I was named for him, and how my grandmother had published poems about him and sung her lullaby for the infant Columba over me as a child. I wandered down to the shore whence he had set sail and felt how thin the veil was, how something of heaven, whatever heaven might be, seemed to glimmer through the sky and the sea itself in this place. And I thought: ‘I’m not a Christian, and I don’t see how I could ever become one, but if I do ever become one, I’ll remember Columba and I’ll go to Iona and thank him’. Which I did, and I did. Now here’s my sonnet for the saint. This poem is now collected in my book The Singing Bowl from Canterbury Press which you can get on amazon, or better still, order from your local bookshop! If you are in Canada you can get it direct from the excellent Steve Bell’s online store Here
Here is a new sonnet from my work in progress ‘Parable and Paradox’, a sonnet sequence on the sayings of Jesus, to be published next year. This sonnet is a reflection on John 14:1-3.
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
This saying was not uttered on some sunny morning when all is going well, but on the night Jesus was betrayed, the night before he died, and in that poignant scene he shared their pain, and shares with all us the sheer tragedy of our mortality. But even as he prepared them for the sorrow of parting he also instilled in them the hope of resurrection, the hope of Heaven and homecoming which they could not yet see.
This passage is very often chosen, and rightly so, as a reading at funerals, because it expresses both empathy and hope, and when I came to compose this sonnet I was gathering together the thoughts and prayers of the many funerals I have taken and hoping to write something that might be helpful, in opening these verses for people who choose to have them read at a funeral.
I have also developed these ideas a little in a sermon I preached this last Sunday at Girton which you can listen to here
As always you can hear me read the sonnet by clicking on the title or the play button
The Feast of Corpus Christi (the Body of Christ), which falls this year on the 4th of June, is a celebration of the sacrament of Holy Communion. In mediaeval times there used to be wonderful processions in which the consecrated elements were taken out of the church on this day and processed on the streets, showing that the Word made flesh was not just in a box labelled ‘church’ but in our midst, just as He was on the streets of Nazareth and Jerusalem. Rebecca Merry‘s lovely art work ( above) has the feel of those mediaeval ‘showings’ on Corpus Christi.
For my contribution to Corpus Christi I am offering here a trio of sonnets about the experience of receiving Holy Communion, each from a slightly different angle. The first two sonnets were published in Sounding the Seasons, my cycle of seventy sonnets for the Church Year.The book is now back in stock on both Amazon UK and USA and physical copies are available in Canada via Steve Bell. It is now also out on Kindle. Please feel free to make use of this, and my other sonnets in church services and to copy and share them. If you can mention the book from which they are taken that would be great. The third sonnet, which is about the 16th Century Oak communion Table in my church St. Edward King and Martyr, is from my most recent collection The Singing Bowl, also published by Canterbury Press.
Margot Krebs Neale has reflected on my phrases ‘He does not come in unimagined light ‘ and ‘to dye himself into experience’ with an image not simply of a stained glass window but of that dyed and refracted light itself reflected in water. I am grateful both to Rebecca and Margot for the way their work reflects on and develops mine. As always you can hear me read the poetry by clicking on the play button above each sonnet, if it appears, or on the title of the poem itself.
The centuries have settled on this table
Deepened the grain beneath a clean white cloth
Which bears afresh our changing elements.
Year after year of prayer, in hope and trouble,
Were poured out here and blessed and broken, both
In aching absence and in absent presence.
This table too the earth herself has given
And human hands have made. Where candle-flame
At corners burns and turns the air to light
The oak once held its branches up to heaven,
Blessing the elements which it became,
Rooting the dew and rain, branching the light.
Because another tree can bear, unbearable,
For us, the weight of Love, so can this table
Today is the feast of the Visitation, which normally falls on the 31st of May, but was transferred to today because yesterday was Trinity Sunday. The Visitation celebrates the lovely moment in Luke’s Gospel (1:41-56) when Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was also, against all expectations, bearing a child, the child who would be John the Baptist. Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit came upon them, that the babe in Elizabeth’s womb ‘leaped for joy’ when he heard Mary’s voice, and it is even as the older woman blesses the younger, that Mary gives voice to the Magnificat, the most beautiful and revolutionary hymn in the world. There is much for the modern world to ponder in this tale of God’s blessing and prophecy on and from the margins, and i have tried to tease a little of it out in this sonnet. I am grateful again to Margot Krebs Neale for her inspiring image, and , as always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title.
This sonnet is drawn from my collection Sounding the Seasons, published by Canterbury Press here in England. The book is now back in stock on both Amazon UK and USA and physical copies are now available in Canada via Steve Bell. It is now also out on Kindle. Please feel free to make use of this, and my other sonnets in church services and to copy and share them. If you can mention the book from which they are taken that would be great..